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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Up’s protagonist is a crotchety old man named Carl Frederickson who, in the opening minutes of the film (not a spoiler), loses his wife and his house in somewhat unrelated events. In these opening minutes, writer-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson heap on the emotion, playing Carl’s relationship with, and loss of, his effervescent wife with the kind of heart-wrenching, tear-jerking beauty that Pixar has been less and less reluctant to use as the years go by. Evocative of the final minutes of Wall-E and Jessie’s story about her old owner in Toy Story 2, Up’s opening minutes are tragic in their normalcy, heartbreaking in just how real they are. It’s a brave decision that creates an ever-present sense of loss and sadness that’s hard for the film to shake; however, this melancholic undercurrent of grief is what drives the film, making it the fantastically rewarding experience that it becomes.

Up tells a tale about the most universal of themes—what, and who, we live for and how we connect with each other. Carl is the ‘emotional bedrock’ of this tale, and from the beginning we’re invested fully in his lonely existence. His undying commitment to his dead wife is the only thing that seems to keep him going any more. It’s this commitment that causes him to tie hundreds of helium balloons to his house and float to Paradise Falls, a mysterious and vibrant location that his wife longed to relocate to before her death. However, much to Carl’s chagrin, tenacious young Wilderness Explorer Russell finds himself trapped on Carl’s porch as he takes off, and inadvertently becomes the old man’s travelling buddy. As the film progresses, though, Carl and Russell are revealed to be more complex creatures than the bitter old man and excitable kid they appear to be on the surface. Both of these men, one young and one old, are committed to one person in their life—Russell, his father; Carl, his dead wife—and are single-mindedly dedicated to these loves. Russell’s hunting of the fictitious snipe, which leads to his unanticipated role as Carl’s companion, is fuelled by a desire to attain a ‘Helping the Elderly’ badge and subsequently have his father validate Russell’s commitment at a ceremony; similarly, Carl’s unconventional move to Paradise Falls is motivated by his guilt over his belief that he never gave his wife the one adventure she wanted.

The excellent narrative and character work here is enhanced by a wacky sense of humour and some fantastic voice work. The animals in the film, particularly the dogs, are fantastically written characters, and they create much of the humour. Ed Asner is perfectly cast as Carl, and he brings the old man to life with great comic timing and a reservoir of emotion to tap into when needed. Acting as his foil, young first-timer Jordan Nagai has the kind of infectious enthusiasm and naïveté that makes Russell such a likable character.

The film is also a visual feast, a wonder to behold at the best of times. Carl’s floating house is a simple image of stunning beauty, and Paradise Falls itself is a grandiose place reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

Up may not be Pixar’s best film, but it is undeniably its most emotionally mature and nuanced, a bittersweet fable that speaks to the romantic in all of us.

Directed by Pete Docter
Written by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter and Thomas McCarthy

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